Future head of the Chancellery: Can Olaf Scholz actually be funny, Mr. Schmidt?

He is Scholz’s closest confidante and soon to be head of the Chancellery: Wolfgang Schmidt tells in an interview that the future Chancellor can be humorous and what he does when he’s angry. And he indicates what, in his opinion, Scholz will do better than Angela Merkel.

ntv.de: Mr. Schmidt, when you met Olaf Scholz 20 years ago, it was clear to you at the time: He would end up in the Chancellery?

Wolfgang Schmidt followed Olaf Scholz from Hamburg to Berlin: He has been State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance since 2018, before that he was State Councilor at the Hamburg Senate Chancellery.

(Photo: picture alliance / photothek)

Wolfgang Schmidt: I’ve been on the road with Olaf Scholz for quite a while now and at some point I had the feeling that someone who can do it. He has a special sense of where the future tasks lie and how to tackle them sensibly.

But things didn’t always go uphill for Scholz. Let us think of the defeat in the struggle for the SPD party chairmanship two years ago. Did you have any doubts?

Not really. Because I always had the impression that people liked it. This has been shown in the state elections in Hamburg and in all surveys since he was Minister of Finance. Many like his manner and no-nonsense style of government. That’s why I was convinced that he could do it.

Nevertheless, there are many clichés about Olaf Scholz – and they are not all positive. He is considered brittle and boring. You know him better than most. What kind of person is he really?

He’s a fine guy, you can rely on him. Of course, as a North German he is not the most emotional. You can have a good discussion with Olaf Scholz. He’s someone who thinks a lot about politics, society, life. And from this analysis he develops smart plans. Something that I really appreciate about him: he meticulously develops his ideas and then implements them with the necessary rigor.

Are everyone wrong who think it is uninteresting?

Olaf Scholz once said that he was not applying for the position of circus director, but that of Federal Chancellor. People like this seriousness and that’s why they gave him the most votes in the federal election.

So boring after all.

No. He relies on substance, not show.

If he is now elected Chancellor, Olaf Scholz will succeed a woman who is ascribed a similar being. Angela Merkel is also considered sober, factual, stoic. Does the comparison fit?

There are already similarities. Both think things through very carefully, they are solid speakers, but halls tend not to bring them to a boil. In terms of type, they are generally calm. For example, I’ve never heard a loud word from either of them.

But have you ever seen an Olaf Scholz behind the scenes who is really angry?

Sour, sure, there is that too. Just never loud. I always find it remarkable the inner calm with which he accepts pressure, attacks and crisis situations, sorting them out for himself and continuing until a solution is found.

He always seems very satisfied with himself and his performance. But does he come from an appointment and say to you: I totally spanked that?

His gaze is more directed towards the front. The decisive factor for him is what it takes now to push the matter over the finish line. But he is already looking critically at what was there, what conclusions are to be drawn.

Scholz is more modest than you think? For real?

He knows what he can do. But he’s also someone who is very reflective.

So his public image is wrong?

Many politicians have a public image that does not necessarily cover how someone is in personal contact. What you can see is that Olaf Scholz has a good reputation across party lines. Many see him as a good and competent negotiating partner. Hard on the matter, of course, but in such a way that you can rely on him.

What does Olaf Scholz do when he succeeds in something really well?

(smiles) Nothing completely different than when he’s not satisfied. At least I don’t remember any emotional outbursts.

But surely he’ll open a good bottle of wine someday !?


Can the future Federal Chancellor actually be funny too?

I think so. He then saves that for internal rounds. He also has a way of laughing to himself when he is pleased about a good comment.

Back to politics: soon it will be Olaf Scholz that the citizens will look to. His words will carry even more weight. You have already said yourself: He does not stand for rousing speeches. Does he have to improve as Chancellor?

Public speaking is, of course, an important tool for a top politician. With Olaf Scholz, I have seen time and again that he conveyed his political thoughts and ideas convincingly at the crucial moment.

Angela Merkel ruled as Chancellor for 16 years, although she is not a great speaker either. Maybe it doesn’t really matter that much?

First of all, it depends on the content of the speech. We have got used to looking at it when speaking, almost like a theater critic: Does the voice modulation fit, is the speech underlined with certain gestures? However, staging should not become an end in itself. It depends much more on whether someone has developed a stringent thought and has penetrated something in such a way that he can explain it to others. That’s what Olaf Scholz does.

More than Merkel?

I think he will use speeches, conversations and discussions to explain his policies. We are currently experiencing that there are many questions and that citizens feel the need for politicians to say what they are actually doing and why they are doing something. You want to be able to understand that.

Olaf Scholz looks the same after his election victory as before. Not a trace of euphoria. Is he even looking forward to his election as Chancellor?

My impression is that he is looking forward to taking the country forward. He’s someone who gets back to work very quickly and takes care of the next things that come up. After the election, talks with the Greens and the FDP had to be prepared, the coalition negotiations were pending. At the same time, the corona situation is hitting us hard and requires the greatest attention and decisive action.

Is Scholz proud to become Federal Chancellor?

He said that it touched him that so many citizens trust him and the SPD to lead the new government. He feels a responsibility to do it properly and well. And I am sure that he will do everything for that right now.

Philip Scupin spoke to Wolfgang Schmidt

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